In praise of understanding

I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point. 

Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so? 

The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine. 

I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things. 

I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity. 

So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work.  Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest. 

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Wintering and waking -gentle steps into poetry for 2022

The first blog of 2022. A slow start for me –I’ve noticed I tend to hibernate from around the beginning of December. Logical me says it’s because my M.E. addled brain can only cope with so much and the machinations of Christmas preparation and production are quite enough. I do continue to journal, and I do write the odd scrap, but very little else. Less logical me imagines that I’m secretly part tortoise and really should be tucked away in a hay-filled cardboard box like Freda from Blue Peter.

The first couple of years this “wintering” happened, I felt an odd combination of worry and guilt – almost as though poetry was a needy puppy that requires constant attention to function well. I think poetry is more cat like in nature. It simply exists and will manage well alone – but will blossom into something quite wonderful when proper care and nurture is given. I have learned to wait for it to unfurl and whisper words in the early hours, draw me back to work. It’s a delicious feeling and something that signals the start of my writing year.

My trusty planner and two grand new notebooks for this year

With that in mind, I always try to have a couple of courses booked for the opening months of the year as way in to writing again and to give me the structure I need. My first one began this week my bursary place on Recharge Your Writing from the wonderful Nine Arches Press. I love Nine Arches approach to poetry. They were the first indie publisher I encountered and their fresh, no-nonsense approach was a revelation. They offer a catalogue of publications that swoop through so many subjects and styles, underpinned by an authenticity and quiet fury. I’ve also enjoyed using two of their books “How to be a Poet” and “The Craft” guides for self-study, so I was really looking forward to this course.

I wasn’t disappointed. Led by the inimitable Caleb Parkin, our group of sixteen poets spent two hours exploring all the ways to play with language and poetry. I discovered a host of online resources including word generators, title-o-matic and a fab site that takes you anywhere in the world at random. We wrote together and individually, plus we made use of breakout groups which meant I was actually able to speak – talking to one person is a lot less scary than talking to 16. I’ve come away with a sense of play, a sense of joy about writing, a whole heap of inspiration and a new poem that I think may develop into something good.

What I’m reading

Every year  I want to read more. It’s something that I need to do to improve my skills, and also to calm and balance my mind. Brain fog makes it hard. Scrolling makes it harder – especially with all these cheese and wine parties to unravel. From next week I intend to create a reading half hour at the start of each day. It’s something I did on and off last year, often with a little journal and reflection on what I read. I wrote more, and better and I noticed a sense of grounding. I thrive on routines, small things that I do each day that make me feel I have a framework and structure – safety points in the chaos of my brain I think.

I’ve started the year with non-fiction. Scoff is a fabulous book that deals with two of my favourite things – food and social history. I’m tumbling ideas for a new set of poetry that I think will consider food and its role in mental wellbeing, so this book is a solid background.

I also took advantage of Nine Arches sale and bought two new books – Be Feared by poet and artist Jane Burn, and What Girls Do in the Dark by Rosie Garland. I’ve had my eye on both of these for a while, and I’m excited to dive in.

My hopes for 2022

My biggest goal for this year is to get my pamphlet published.  I feel like I can’t move on until this one is out. I’ve spent time crafting and redrafting and have absolute confidence in the poetry – the challenge is finding a publisher who feels the same. I only realised at the end of last year that most publishers are happy for simultaneous submission of longer work, which, when I consider the average turnaround time is several months makes absolute sense. Fingers crossed I’ll have news soon.

As well as brewing a new set of poems, I’ve also been given the opportunity to run my first workshops. Of course, my immediate thought was “I can’t do that” but then I realise I spent ten years designing and delivering training for people on subjects far less beguiling than poetry, and for classes where a good percentage had no interest in being there. I’m very excited and hope to have more news about this soon.

So that’s it. The first blog of 2022.More positive, despite everything, and with a strong sense of looking forward, becoming better and relishing the fact that I have this wonderful thing to enjoy as part of my life.

Thank you, as ever, for reading,

Kathryn xx

How is it the end of August?!

I mean – how is that possible? This month has meandered away under a cover of cloud.

The end of summer usually makes me sad – warm weather means less pain for one thing. I miss eating outside, watching the swifts and martins overhead and the general floatiness that comes from spending every day in long skirts and flip-flops. Autumn is beautiful, of course, and winter is pleasingly austere but summer ? Summer is for smiling and pretending I live somewhere altogether less stoical.

I feel different this year. Perhaps it’s because much of summer has been taken up with house renovation, perhaps it’s the insistent gloom of the skies over Coalbrookdale. Perhaps it was that glorious week on the Welsh coast. I don’t feel as bereft and wary of winter as usual.

It could also be because I feel I’ve regained some equilibrium. I’m writing more mindfully, rather than scribbling from a turbulent mind, which inevitably means work that is more poem than outpouring – ultimately, work that is better.

I’ve also been more proactive with submissions – looking at my Trello page and seeing I’ve only three pieces in circulation was a bit of a shock . I spent some time reviewing, redrafting and refining some of the poems I’ve made this year as well as seeking homes for them. Always nerve racking. Always exciting. Always full of “why can’t I just be happy with gardening instead of putting myself through this”.

Camping at Caerfai seems like years ago

Good news too – I’ve had a piece of flash accepted for publication by Sledgehammer Lit. who are fast feeling like my poetry-spirit home. I love what they publish and I love that they seem to like my stuff. This piece is one that I love and that I’ve found hard to home – so I’m thrilled it’s going to be part a journal I admire. A couple of poems were declined – but that’s how it goes.

New projects are brewing too – a couple of gentle collaborations with friends whose art I adore may be coming to fruition in the not too distant future.

I seem to have a new direction in terms of how I want to write. My aim is to set aside a week – autumn I hope – and do my own mini writing retreat. I’ll have to stay at home obviously, but I’m going to try to minimise other work and manage domestic duties so I can focus on reading,writing and exploring new directions. Or I might go and make furniture in the Scottish Highlands like Cate le Bon.

So summer is closing, with a whimper or a bang remains to be seen, but I feel positive about my work, and positive about where I’m going – slowly, as ever, but I’m moving. And that’s what counts.

If you’d like to comission a poem, for yourself or as a gift then you can ! I love to create bespoke poetry – it’s a privilege to be asked to express people’s love and care for each other. If you’d like to find out more just click on Poems from the Hare at the top of the page, or send me a message kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

The final gift of 2020

My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.

Christmas covid-style. Fire pit and family.

For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.

This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction.  More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.



The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.

I’ve been lucky to have this view for 20 years. It seems my luck has changed.


Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.

Kathryn xx

What is micro fiction?

If you follow my social media you’ll have seen my delight at being shortlisted for Lightbox Originals‘ 100 word story . Being shortlisted for anything is always exciting and this is no exception – especially because it’s a genre of creative writing that I adore but can find somewhat challenging.

Back to the matter in hand. Put simply, micro fiction is a very, very, very short story. It has a beginning, middle and end like any other story, but unlike any other story it has very few words. This particular competition set a limit of 100 words. Not many at all.

Very happy to be shortlisted for the #100words story competition from Lightbox Originals

Is micro fiction like poetry?

For me it feels like it is. I use rhythm and pace to create atmosphere, and every word has to count – there’s no room for waste. I’m not a chatty sort of soul and I think this is why I enjoy working with so few words.

I’m also aware of a change in my understanding of poetry. Reading more widely has helped me to see that the work I really love is the work that tells a story – takes me somewhere. I’m seeing a change in my recent work moving away from description and introspection towards more imaginative work. I think it’s a sign of personal development (remember all that therapy), as well as the improvement I’ve made as a poet,largely through the excellent prompt a day courses courtesy of Wendy Pratt.

Isn’t that a bit of a big headed thing to say?

It certainly feels like it is; I’m part of the generation that has the phrase “pride before a fall” running through my veins, for whom thinking I am good at anything is worse than being good at nothing.

Despite this I’m sticking my neck out and saying I am a better writer now than I was this time last year. I can see how I’ve progressed – both in poetry and in my paid work as a copywriter. I think that’s ok to say. Actually, I think it’s essential. If I never see that I’ve improved, where is the impetus to continue ?

Reading more and more poetry this year like this gorgeous book from Robert McFarlane

Can you really tell a story in 100 words?

You can tell a story in six. Maybe less. It all relies on understanding that the story is in the reader – they bring their experiences to match with your words. The result may be a quiet ding or a church bell level resonance, but the meeting is there and that’s what makes the story, however many words there are. The skill lies in having something to say that others will warm to, and saying it well. The best writers have an extra bit of magic that I haven’t figured out yet.

When will you know the results?

The results are announced next week. It would be amazing to be placed but, honestly, just entering is a huge achievement never mind getting to the shortlist. Putting work out is always scary, and knowing it’s being judged is extra scary. I’m quite matter of fact about losing and getting rejections these days – it’s a side effect of trying I suppose – but it’s always an absolute joy to gain a glimmer of achievement.

Thanks for reading – I’m much better this week, and hoping I can fully regain some balance to my health soon. Your support means the world!

Stay safe, wash your hands etc.

Kathryn

Xx

My illustrated poetry zine inspired by work from artists around the Severn Gorge is available through Etsy or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com.

You can buy #YesToTigers in my Etsy shop or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

Trees and unknown normality

I’ve found myself complaining a lot over the last few weeks. It’s not sitting well. Whilst I have bouts of gloom, I’m not generally a complainer. I’m a keeper of gratitude diaries, a giver of personal pep talks, a reluctant Pollyanna. Counting my blessings is second nature – I’m aware it’s not hard – I have food, warmth, safe home. Still these last few weeks I hear myself moaning about things that shouldn’t bother me – trees blocking a bit more light in my yard than I’d like (SAD begins to creep around at this time of year) envy of those with big skies and wide views, moaning about a misplaced sock or overlooked watering. I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Alongside this is an utter lack of creativity. Not a note, a scrap and scribble.  I can barely read let alone write. I’m not sure if my brain is just overwhelmed by the awfulness in the news (although that’s usually fuel not foe) or I’m having to readjust to being in social situations after several months of solitude. It feels like the good creative part of my brain has twisted shut, and all that seeps out are petty grumbles.

Perhaps I just need a change of scene – like many people I’ve only left my home county once since the beginning of March. It’s not a terrible place to be by any means, but think the fact that many of my anchors, the things that make me feel like me, have been removed has left me a little rudderless. I miss the rush and collectivism of live music; I miss travelling to different places and seeing the similarities in human nature as well as the vast differences in culture.  I miss the way the light falls differently, the new scents that characterise a country. I miss living.

Missing these things is a privilege in itself of course. It means I’ve travelled, been able to afford both money and time to enjoy music. It means I have a partner who genuinely loves the things I love. My normal doesn’t suit everyone, and the world’s normal certainly didn’t suit me. At the beginning of lockdown, I was of the mind that it was quite nice, having all these gigs streamed, and joining various zoom quizzes, being able to go to museums and galleries online – things that M.E. has curtailed in real life. Six months in I’ve realised that these things are only a sticking plaster. I need that feeling of being with people I feel myself with, that feeling of community, of a common love and it doesn’t happen through a screen. I know that the future is bound to be different, but I’m scared we are going to lose the things that make being human a rich and vivid thing. The curated perfection of a screen is no match for a flawed, emotionally charged performance, or that moment when I stand back from a painting in a gallery and feel my synapses fizz with excitement. It’s no match for sitting around laughing a daft tv program with friends you’ve not seen for years, sitting down to share food you’ve cooked together, no match for the excitement of walking into a dingy nightclub an hearing the music you love, knowing it’s going to be a good night.

I feel curiously better now I’ve written this – I’m not a complainer. I’m just struggling a bit with being in one place for six months and so everything from overgrown trees to misplaced socks is starting to feel too much too Pollyanna my way out of. Reading back, this seems like a normal enough response to a six month lockdown.

Hopefully creativity will spring back soon. Until then, wear your mask, wash your hands, read widely and critically.

On being an amateur

Amateur comes from the Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’ – one who does something for love. The modern definition is less wonderful, describing an amateur as a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity. Curious how it is no longer enough to do something just because you love to do it. The response I hear most when I tell people I write is “ooh are you going to be the next JK Rowling” –I scuttle away from the subject, and feel ashamed that no, I haven’t made a great deal of money from having work published, nor do I expect to. Those who know me know that making pots of cash has never been a driver for anything I do – I’m not an aspirational type of person and have no wish to be anything other than happy. I make a little money from writing, but that is lowly stuff like online copy for cabinet makers or theme parks. I love doing it and do it well but it isn’t flashy or shiny, and it is simply a means of paying for the weekly shop. I am a tiny bit thrilled to be writing for a living though, however meagre.

Why am I telling you this? I feel like I lost my way a little last year. I focused on publication, to validate, and confirm that my work is ok – and that is still true. Nonetheless, the literary world feels still feels like one I can’t be part of, as though I’m knocking the door, but there’s a secret knock that I’ll never quite know.  I’m not sure I’ll ever want to perform my work or read it at literary festivals – the thought terrifies me, getting anywhere is a nightmare because of M.E. and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like me. Is this sour grapes? I don’t think so. I’m a behind the scenes sort of person. I like the limelight, but from a safe distance, and in a safe environment. Online communication works for me, because I can choose the time, the format – I’m in control, and I don’t have to worry about the impact of my health.

©kam

This feeling of being a perpetual outsider has got me down. It has also made me ask myself why I write. It’s not just for myself, it’s because I want people to read what I’ve written, and to enjoy it. I wrote a tiny script for an online course Staying in and Writing it out and got lovely feedback. I made people smile and giggle and that felt great. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m going to stop taking all so very seriously. I don’t mean the work; I mean the whole circus of creating a career out of something I love. I’m not a corporate soul, I really don’t like working with others (apologies to all the folk who suffered this over the years) and I just don’t seem to fit. In short, I have decided to continue to be an amateur, to continue to be a person who does something for the love of it, and to embrace the freedom and joy that that brings. The thrill of publication will always be a wonderful, but I don’t want it to be my end goal. I want to write stuff I love.

https://theoatmeal.com/

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to put more of my work on this blog you can read poems, short stories, including a new one called Pica and earlier work too as well as the pieces I’ve had published – it means I can’t submit so much, but the most frustrating thing is having work tied up in the system and not being able to share it. I love writing, I love people enjoying what I’ve written and we have the wonders of the internet, so why not? I’m including a bit about process too and as ever I love to get your feedback and comments. I’ll try to add a new piece at least every week.

Hope all is well, hope you’re safe and I hope my odd little stories and peculiar poems bring you a smile in these oddest of times.

Kathryn xx

Writing is happening (thank goodness)

Self imposed isolation for almost a month (I’m not on an official list but getting a simple cold puts me out of action for weeks, so I’m taking no chances for fear of relapse). My brain has thought of nothing beyond how terrified I am for everyone and being utterly obsessed with making sure everyone I know has enough food. I seem to be morphing into some kind of domestic fanatic, making bread, baking cakes, growing veg and generally about finding one hundred and one recipes to use up beetroot. I’ve been too scared and angry to write anything that isn’t work related (and therefore essential to keep eating) and that’s been fine….

…except I’ve missed it. I’ve missed going into another world, I’ve missed sitting seeing if I can taste the right word to use, I’ve missed hunkering down into language to let all those glimmers of joy quietly glow. I abandoned my Poetry School course (thankfully I have a credit) and wasn’t sure how I’d get on with my two new ventures this month. One is a free weeklong short story course, designed by Tania Hershman, courtesy of Arvon, and my other is another poetry course from Wendy Pratt. I missed out on funding to go to Arvon this summer, so I was thrilled to have the chance to benefit from Tania’s unique take on the world and how she incorporates this into teaching and as you’ll remember from my February blogs, there is something about Wendy’s approach that gives me a freedom – and a feeling of being good enough.

I started both today, after doing a super long piece of work about safety in the construction industry (I know). My brain is sleepy, and my thoughts are a little swimmy, but I seem to be able to connect to that part of me that can escape. The first exercise in the short story program was to gather phrases from three poetry books, two instruction manuals and a recipe book, then build a story,and the prompt form Wendy was to recall and respond to being the butt of a joke ( loads of material for this one).

My random collection of phrase sources

I’ve written a story about eating squirrels and drafted a poem about styling out a loss of control, both of which seem ideal for the current situation.

I doubt I’ll write King Lear, discover great scientific theories, or even get around to polishing up all the pieces I want to submit, but I finally feel a little more like me again, and that is a wonderful thing.